New Jersey Organizing Project calls on Trenton budget investments to save lives

As Governor Murphy and legislators begin debate on a state budget for the fiscal year beginning in June, grassroots advocates are calling on Trenton to prioritize a series of reforms that will reduce overdose deaths and expand access to substance use treatment, while ensuring accountability, transparency among providers.

“And, in light of settlements just last week with drug corporations for their role fueling the overdose crisis – it’s key that legislation like S783/A1488 pass immediately so those funds are dedicated to ending the overdose crisis and don’t result in less state investment, or god forbid those funds simply disappearing in NJ’s general fund,” said Priscilla Robinson, Not One More NJ Campaign Director with the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP).

NJOP is seeking expanded access to Medication Assisted Treatment through the funding of mobile units that can provide treatment services in rural parts of the state where care is difficult to find. At the same time, NJOP is calling for increased oversight of recovery houses, rehab centers and other facilities that receive state funding to ensure they are utilizing evidence-based practices and providing high-quality services.

“As our elected officials get to work on the state budget and legislation like S783/A1488, it is essential that they prioritize investments that provide all New Jerseyans – regardless of race, income or insurance status – with access to high-quality, evidence-based care to confront the ongoing overdose crisis that is devastating our communities.” said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, Executive Director of the New Jersey Organizing Project. “Preventable overdose deaths rose again last year. The families and communities impacted by his crisis need to be at the forefront of the conversation shaping our budget priorities.”

The solutions proposed by NJOP would build off a legislative package that passed last year along bipartisan lines and was signed into law by Governor Murphy. This legislation expanded access to life-saving opioid antidotes and expanded access to Medication Assisted Treatment, which remains the gold standard of care for individuals suffering from substance use disorder.

Despite these advances, serious barriers to Medication Assisted Treatment remain. Less than a quarter of New Jerseyans being treated for substance abuse disorder include this evidence-based approach as part of their care thanks to a combination of financial, administrative and cultural hurdles. Most counties in New Jersey still do not have treatment or harm-reduction infrastructure that can meet the needs of individuals struggling with substance use disorder. In Ocean County, for instance, there is a 60% unmet need for treatment, and in Monmouth County there was an astounding 82% unmet need.

“I’ve seen first-hand, the loss of life and the trauma loved ones have had to face due to a lack of unconditional compassion and reliable access to care,” said Elizabeth Burke Beaty, a person in recovery, Certified Peer Recovery specialist and founder of Sea Change Recovery Community Organization.

At the same time, there is lack of oversight at the state level to ensure that state and federal resources spent on recovery are being properly used on eligible families and on evidence-based treatment. Greater accountability could expand access to treatment and will help ensure that individuals currently receiving treatment have the best opportunity to recover.

“If we want to save lives from preventable overdose and help people live healthier lives in recovery, we need to ensure people are put before profits in the treatment industry.” said Vincent Digioia-Laird, a person in recovery from Monmouth County.

As the overdose crisis continues to rage on in New Jersey, New Jersey Organizing Project will continue to advocate for evidence-based solutions in the state budget process that expand treatment options by breaking down bureaucratic and financial barriers, including working to pass S783/A1488.

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